On Friday and Saturday of last week, several of us from the ym360 team went to Tuscaloosa, AL to help with debris removal from the gigantic tornados that swept across the State last Wednesday. We spent a couple of long days running chainsaws and hauling limbs. The devastation there is as overwhelming as any I have ever seen.
We ended Thursday in the poorest part of Tuscaloosa. It was so frustrating! Hardly anyone had been by to help. There were trees blocking the narrow streets, no power, and no water. We went door-to-door asking if anyone needed trees removed. We worked until dark before heading back to Birmingham, resolving to come straight back in the morning. We left feeling pretty down.
We arrived back in Tuscaloosa mid-morning, and made our way back to the neighborhood. But what we found stopped us in our tracks. The Church had arrived. And by the Church, I mean the "big C." The Body of Christ. This little neighborhood was swarming with volunteers. There were bulldozers, bobcats, chainsaws, and trucks. There were people walking door-to-door with flats of water and hot meals. I saw two Southern Baptist Disaster Chaplains simply walking to each house offering counseling and prayer. We saw four or five different denominations represented, all working alongside one another. We realized we weren't needed, so we gladly moved on to another neighborhood to find work. The thing that was so moving to me is that this scene was played out all over Tuscaloosa, and I imagine, all over the State.
Everywhere we went throughout the city, the Church was there. We spent 5 hours in the hardest hit area helping another chainsaw crew "un-bury" a house. In the street in front of the house was a non-stop parade of people handing out meals, water, flashlights, etc. I saw church volunteers helping people move out of homes. I saw medical and food stations everywhere.
And I saw lots and lots of teenagers! There is something about a teenager's energy and youthfulness in the midst of tragedy that is inherently uplifting. It is the juxtaposition of so much possibility in the face of despair. It reminded me of the need for us to urge our teenagers into service in our communities. I quickly jotted down several ways we do this, as a reminder to each one of us of the importance of providing environments to serve.
There is nothing as important as prayer for our communities, especially in times of trial. Praying for our cities keeps the needs in the forefront of teenagers' minds.
Community Outreach (Church-based)
Church based initiatives such as block parties, food drives, back-yard Bible clubs, clothes drives, and neighborhood clean-ups are vital. These are programs where students can play a major role.
Community Outreach (Organization-based)
Working at shelters, half-way houses, soup kitchens, and food pantries are incredible opportunities for your students. Birmingham has several organizations that utilize teenagers in mentoring and tutoring programs. Maybe your city does, too.
Suburban churches partnering with urban churches to help serve relationally is a great way to plug in. Joint youth events are awesome, as well as youth service projects in impoverished neighborhoods. I have seen more of this in the last few years and it makes me happy.
I am including this because I want to simply say that there will be a lot of opportunities in the next few months for your students to serve the affected communities in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. There are cities across Alabama that have been virtually wiped from the map . . . Tuscaloosa, Pleasant Grove, Cullman, and many others . . . If you are interested in bringing student groups to help in the rebuilding over the next few months, feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I can point you to some contact people who can get you started in the right direction.
- These are just a few reminders. In the comment section below, I'd love to hear how your students engage your community, or any other way they serve.